When Mother's Day Is Hard
Mother's Day is hard for many women, myself included. Several of my friends long for marriage and children. Several are infertile or have lost new lives to miscarriage or stillbirth. One friend hardly speaks to her estranged mother, and several have mothers who have died. Another struggles with how her marital problems challenge her parenting. As for me, my triplet baby sons died last September. Each was lovely like every mother's son, but their lives and my mothering were cut short. Like my friends, I face Mother's Day with ambivalence—glad for all the good mothering in the world, but sad about my losses.
In the first weeks after their deaths, I couldn't bear to look at a calendar because it showed only days and days of sadness ahead. Even a clock seemed too much, displaying minutes and hours ahead in which I would have to bear the absolute goneness of my children. This sharp bitterness has mostly passed, but this month the calendar shows Mother's Day coming. Holidays are frequently hard for bereaved people, especially the holidays that celebrate the very someone you've lost. And the hype of Mother's Day is just so hyped, salting the wound of childlessness, bereavement, or estrangement.
Hallmark holidays vs. the liturgical calendar
Unlike the unrealistic and sentimental feminine images dished out by Hallmark, the Bible and the church offer real stories of real women's lives. And in contrast to the twelve-month calendar, the liturgical year offers time redeemed, meaning something more than just bearing sorrow through an interminable future. Now, I don't know much about the liturgical year, but I'm learning to appreciate it. Typical for evangelical mutts, I've worshiped Jesus with little denominational loyalty, grounding myself at various times in traditions including Baptist, Evangelical Free, Evangelical Covenant, Church of God, and Mennonite. All of these churches are non-liturgical, but now I worship at a postmodern Protestant church that blends elements from various Christian traditions, including the liturgical year. This year, when my future looked like an abyss of sorrow, the liturgical year has helped me move through time with meaning. And for us who find Mother's Day difficult, the church may offer hope in its measures of time and in its truthful perspective on women and family.
Mother's Day is a secular holiday patched in during Easter Season, between Jesus' resurrection and ascension. In evangelical churches like those of my childhood, it popped off the calendar like Christmas and Easter, with no apparent context. Unlike the religious holidays that commemorate events in Jesus' life, Mother's Day is too often a day for valorizing motherhood as a necessary and ultimate expression of womanhood. I've heard numerous comments in church similar to these, from a sermon preached by my Baptist grandfather. In a Mother's Day sermon he said, "The greatest privilege and trust God ever gave women was motherhood … Mother's love is the greatest love outside the love of God."
Motherhood is a good thing, of course, and the holiday was created to honor mothers and their frequently unrecognized work. Though Christians have no mandate to celebrate, or even to mention secular holidays in the church, it may be wise to partner with the culture in honoring women's work. Christians should, however, understand motherhood by considering both the Scriptures and the real lives of women in their congregations. Unfortunately, we too often take cues from TV, greeting card companies, and our own suburban dreams. As a result, women who do not fit these soft-focused fantasies are further wounded in church celebrations of Mother's Day.